Voice: Wellington Webb

Wellington Webb is the former three-term mayor of Denver

“…I think the issue for the future is going to be less about race and more about class. I think we’re developing an entire underclass of individuals among both white and minorities…”

Wellington Webb

Wellington Webb

I haven’t looked at any data, but intuitively I would think that three or four things happened pretty simultaneously. One is Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a difference in policy…shrinking of government…The whole issue was to not feed the beast. If you look at the number of percentages of African Americans and Latinos who work in…federal, state and local government, the numbers are higher proportionately than other folks, and if the government shrinks then that also means higher levels of unemployment in those particular government sectors and the public sector. And frankly that trend continued under Bush, under Clinton, under Bush and under Obama. Each one is proud of talking about they’ve shrunk the size of the federal government, which is in direct correlation in terms of the number African Americans working, in the federal government, state and local.

I think another piece is the lack of manufacturing jobs, jobs leaving the country, going overseas.

A third big policy change was the whole issue around welfare. The welfare bill that was passed under Clinton meant a lot of people who were receiving government assistance found themselves off into a kind of a never-never land, which also then increased the numbers of disadvantaged, that previously had been receiving assistance.

I think that the other aspect is the education gap widening. This is partly an outgrowth that has been going on since the mid-70s.

I think all of those policies had a distinct shift in terms of widening disparities between black and white. I think there’d be one other interesting statistic that you might want to look at, too, and that is the disparity among African Americans and Latinos themselves. There’s a widening gap between those that are doing very, very well and a larger percentage of low-skill, unskilled workers that are barely making it and becoming part of the chronically unemployed.

Among African Americans, I believe that there’s a widening gap between those who have money and those who don’t and the middle class is the one that’s shrinking. I believe that’s accurate to say _ the gains of the civil rights movement have been erased…For all intents and purposes, affirmative action has been wiped out. There is no longer a desire to assure that minorities are being placed into jobs. There’s no emphasis on that and there’s no enforcement mechanism to make that happen.

Using Denver as an example, I was a very big proponent of sharing opportunity…If there’s a large construction project in the city, and if the contractor happened to be Hensel Phelps, Hensel Phelps normally would have an African American and a Latino as joint venture partners or subcontractors working with them. I’m just using them as one example. This would cut across the board for all of them. You would see a high preponderance of minorities working on those projects.

I think the issue for the future is going to be less about race and more about class. I think we’re developing an entire underclass of individuals among both whites and minorities who are finding it very difficult to succeed in an American economy. And until we build back a type of manufacturing base without outsourcing so many jobs and level out the educational opportunity, this is going to be very difficult to correct.

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